A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 3
What training should I do?
By now, you may have joined a club, maybe obtained British Cycling membership and even bought a licence and perhaps you’ve had a look at the various events that you are thinking of entering. The next question is: what training should I do? This is a “BIG” question! So with that in mind, I have enlisted the help of a couple of cycling coaches who can help you in your hour of need.
Michelle Bergstrand-Evans, She Cycles Coaching Limited
First up is Michelle Bergstrand-Evans of She Cycles Coaching Limited who is a British Cycling Level 3 coach and who has over 23 years of racing experience. I asked Michelle for her top tips for women and this is what she had to say:
“There I was, sat in my favourite ‘post ride’ café, devouring a well-earned slice of cake and savouring a lovely frothy, warm cappuccino, when, one of the café’s employees asked if I was a cyclist. I figured the fact I was dressed from head to toe in my finest cycling attire and having minutes before left my hefty winter road bike lent against the café frontage, was a slight clue, that, yes, I was a cyclist….a female cyclist at that !!! We engaged in conversation. The waitress explained very enthusiastically that she was on a post-Christmas fitness regime and had a love of cycling, but wasn’t too fit and wanted to enjoy riding her bike faster, longer and harder…..What could I advise her? Well, I came up with five training tips for the female cyclist (well six actually, as you’ll see!)
“A hugely important issue which is so often is overlooked when starting out as a cyclist is the fit of one’s bike! A correct fitting machine allows for comfort, performance, safety and reduces the risk of injury. 85% of cyclists experience some form of pain in the knees, neck, shoulder, and wrist, hand, posterior or back. If the bike is the wrong size/ set-up, the rider will end up trying to fit their bike, rather than the bike fit them, which will compromise performance. An inefficient and uncomfortable position can lead to permanent injuries. Also, a proper fitting bike is easier to handle, reducing the risk of crashes.
“Another important issue relating to female cyclists and comfort is the choice of bike saddle. The correct saddle is so important for the enjoyment of an enjoyable, ride to the result of a race. The wrong saddle will cause all sorts of issues, basically it’ll cause untold pain that only a woman would understand:-/ So, which saddle? To be honest, it really is down to personal choice; however, I would suggest to any female cyclist that a female specific saddle really is the way to go, as they take account of the female anatomy (wider sit bones). There are so many out there, and time spent researching will be time well spent. I would suggest popping into your local bike shop and asking to try out the female specific saddles they have.
WHAT TO WEAR!
“There is nothing worse than setting off on a training ride/social ride and realising, within a few miles that you have over or under dressed. I have a rule of thumb when it comes to deciding what to wear. Firstly, CHECK THE WEATHER FORCAST! Then, if it’s chilly, layer up. A good base layer is so important. If you really feel the cold, wear a set of arm warmers under your base layer. If it’s really very cold, I wear a skin suit. This really does bring an extra layer of warmth. Ensure you wear a good pair of Roubaix thermal tights and wind proof soft shell jacket. I’ve discovered the benefits of two pairs of overshoes in the cold….marvellous! Not forgetting thermal gloves. Its best to buy a pair a size too big as this allows for warm air to circulate around the fingers to keep them toasty warm. Finally, the head, a buff to cover the ears underneath your helmet works a treat. Not so good for the hair, but it will keep you warm. As for warmer weather. I will tend to put on what I think is necessary, then stand outside, If I feel warm before I’ve begun to ride, I have too much on. Unless it’s 40 degs, then wear enough to be decent and don’t forget the sun cream! Remember, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET and gloves or mitts.
HAVE A GOAL
“Why do we set goals? Well, goal setting, whatever they may be, is the first step towards improving as a cyclist. Goals will give you direction and purpose to what you are doing, this in turn enables the rider to define their training strategy and plan. Your goal may be to finish a Sunday club run for the first time. It may be to podium in a National event.
When setting your goals, they must be:
- Realistic – the goal must be something that is possible for you to achieve, otherwise you’ll become de-motivated if you’re unable to achieve your desired goal.
- Measurable – You must be able to quantify your goal. For example, you must be able to say ‘I did X, so I achieved my goal’.
- Challenging – your goals must stretch and push you to greater heights, otherwise you won’t see any gains. Goal setting is there to improve you as a cyclist.
- Yours – your goals are personal to you, they are there to motivate you. A common mistake from riders is to set the same goal as that of their training partner/team mate. Furthermore, when setting your personal goal, think of a long term goal, maybe two years hence, such as ‘in two years I will be fit and confident enough to finish a National Women’s Road race’,or finish a particularly challenging sportive. The long term goal setting will enable you to set short term objectives, such as entering a Sportive for the first time, or completing a session you’ve never been able to complete before. These short-term goals will enable you to attain your long-term aims. Finally, setting and achieving goals has a huge impact on motivation; regular success = lots of smiles.
” Cycling is fun….competitive cycling is a blast. However, as you improve, at times, you’ll find your desire to improve will overtake your ‘common sense’, as many riders make the mistake of riding too hard, mistakenly thinking that continuous hard training will result in improved results. This may be the point where the rider decides they need someone qualified to guide their training to enable them to continue to achieve their goals. The best resource is a coach, someone who can get to know you over time and you get to know them. A coach will devise a training plan according to your goals and lifestyle and will communicate with you on a regular basis, as communication is the corner stone to an effective coach/rider relationship. The coach will prepare a plan with the correct level of endurance, interval and conditioning work, as well as advise on nutrition, psychology, recovery and sometimes the shopping! A coach does cost money, but is often money very well spent. If the cost is too great, joining a local cycling club and picking the brains of experience riders is always a good start….
Competitive cycling can be fun!
FIND A GROUP
“Cycling on your own can be a very peaceful experience, particularly if you work in a pressured environment or have noisy children, however, one of the benefits of cycling, is it is, at times a very sociable activity. I would suggest that any rider wanting to improve or even just make friends with like-minded people joins a local cycling club. Not only will riding with other riders develop your social side, but it will develop your riding skills as you will be mixing with cyclists of various abilities and experiences. Riding in a group will also improve not only your handling skills, but being able to ride ‘further/faster/longer’ will do wonders for your fitness and confidence. One word of warning, beware of the ‘weekend warrior’, someone who takes any training ride as a race, to the detriment of other riders and sometimes your training aspirations. Or failing that, start your own group!
THE GUILT BOX
“Now this point is an extra and aimed at those riders who have families/partners/children. As a female cyclist, at any level, you will find at times, when you’ve planned to ride, you may battle with a ‘guilt trip’ as your position of mother/wife/girlfriend has been put to one side. I would suggest, when it is your cycling time, or ‘me’ time. Imagine you have a ‘guilt box’. Remove the guilt from your head, put it into the box, put the lid firmly on the box and put to one side. You are entitled to ‘do your thing’, without distraction. Think only about completing your session and worry about nobody but yourself….HAVE GUILT FREE FUN, ….when you’ve finished your session, your partner, boss and kids will have you back….everyone’s happy then! And just remind your kids what a fantastic role model you are. Remind your partner/husband how fit you look and mention to your boss how motivated you must be to want to train and improve yourself!
“To be honest, the above list only scratches the surface. However, I think the above six points cover the important factors that will make cycling far more enjoyable for the female cyclist. As with many activities/sports that are entered into as a novice, there is a huge learning curve to scale. This shouldn’t put you off. It’s exciting, learning new skills, making new friends. Even the most accomplished cyclist will learn need to revisit their skills and continue to develop them. So, off you go…….ENJOY ….”
Huw Williams, La Fuga
Next up is Huw Williams, who has been organising the sessions at the Cyclopark venue in Kent for women, under the #fanbackedwomenscycling umbrella. Huw is a British Cycling Level 3 coach, and is a director of La Fuga Cycling Academy (lafuga.cc). As Huw has been helping women start out on the road racing scene, I asked him to give you an insight into what happens in the race and what you can do to keep up. Here is what Huw has to say:
“If you’ve been reading the previous posts in this series you’ll have a good idea about the way in which cycle racing in the UK is structured, what kind of races are available to you and how to go about setting some ‘SMART’ goals in order to prepare for them. For the novice racer though, that first event can be more than a little daunting and the small step onto your first start line can be a massive leap into the unknown if you don’t know what’s coming. So in this short article we’ll take a look at what a typical first race looks like, what you can expect to happen and how you can prepare for it.
(c) Huw Williams
“In your first race you’ll probably be riding with 3rd and 4th category racers on a closed-road circuit and it’ll last anywhere between 40 and 90 minutes. In your mind you probably envisage a race which looks like a mini Tour de France stage with a perfectly compact peleton of riders winding it’s way around the various laps until the bell goes and there’s a mad sprint for the points at the finish. I hate to be the one to tell you that this is not going to happen. What’s going to happen is that the gun will go and the stronger riders will occasionally attack, winding up the speed when you least want them to, and splitting the pack until there are only a few riders left capable of contesting the sprint at the end. This will happen repeatedly until there are riders strung out all over the road in ones and two’s, many riding individual time trials to the finish. So a novice race often more closely resembles a disorganized club-run than a stage of a grand tour and the reason this happens is that so many riders despite being reasonably well trained, are unprepared for the intensity of the attacks, get dropped and quickly end up riding on their own.
How fast is FAST?
“Consider this fairly typical question recently posted on a women’s racing group forum page; “I have never raced before and would love to start but have no idea how fast I need to be. What sort of speed do the cat 3/4’s go at?” This typifies the problem. The question is miss-directed as the speed the 3/4s go at can be anything from moderate club-run pace to eyeballs out sprinting. And therein lies the problem, it can go from one extreme to the other several times in the space of a few minutes and if riders aren’t prepared for it your race can be over in the first couple of minutes. So more realistically the question should be; “How fast do I need to be able to go for short bursts in order not to get dropped?”
“From our example of a typical race scenario, you can hopefully see that training which targets a uniform speed is not what’s required in this kind of race. More realistically, what’s required is the ability to go VERY fast, repeatedly, in order to stay with a given group. It’s not uncommon for a rider in a one-hour circuit race to have to produce as many as 20-30 efforts of around 80% of their maximum power in order to stay in touch with the leaders. So it’s a question of going VERY hard, then recovering quickly in order to go VERY hard again. Suddenly sitting on a turbo trainer or in a group of riders at a steady ‘x’ mph doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?
“The good news is that as we know this is going to happen, we can train much more specifically to prepare for it so that it doesn’t come as so much of a shock when it does, and you have the tools to deal with it. And remember, if all this sounds like its going to be very intense (believe me it is), it’s going to be just as intense for everyone else in the race. So if you’re training specifically for the requirements of this kind of racing, and others in the race are not, you’re going to have a big advantage when the gun goes.
“So here are a list of the key elements needed for your first road race and how to go about training for them.
What is it? Firstly you need to be able to complete race distance, and an ‘endurance’ event, as opposed to a ‘sprint’ event is anything that lasts over a minute.
How do I train it? Simple, This is where your longer rides either with a group or riding solo at moderate pace are necessary in order to develop a good ’endurance’ base.
2) Short Term Muscular Endurance
What is it? Think of this as an extended sprint, when riders attack, and try to break away, you need to be able to sustain a hard muscular contraction for a minute or so in a big gear in order to stay with them.
How do I train it? Practice 1-2 minute intervals on the turbo or on the road in progressively bigger gears, with several minutes easy-spinning recovery between them. Try to get your cadence up to around 100rpm and match it each time you increase the gear.
What is it? The initial jump when an attack goes – you need to be able to get up to top speed, fast. As an example, if two race cars each have a top speed of 180mph, the one that gets to the finish line first is the one that REACHES that top speed first as it spends more time AT that top speed – so even though you might have the ability to ride as fast as the other rider, she’s going to ride away from you if you can’t cover that initial burst of power.
How do I train for it? Practice very short, explosive sprints of just 10 seconds. Ride along at 15-20mph then jump out of the saddle and drive the gear up to full speed as quickly as possible but ease off after just 10 seconds and ensure at least 3 minutes of easy spinning recovery between intervals. Use a variety of gears for these, you never know what point an attack might go at in a race and might not be able to select your desired gear. These intervals are great to include on longer rides on the road.
(c) Huw Williams
4) Lactate tolerance?
What is it? When constantly being asked to ride at high pace, as well as repeatedly going close to max for short bursts in order to cover attacks, your heart rate remains very high even when you try to recover by sitting in the bunch. This means high levels of lactate accumulation and high levels of discomfort.
How do I train for it? Unlike the previous intervals, where you allow several minutes for recovery in order to produce the next hard effort, lactate tolerance is about making near maximal efforts with minimal recovery periods. This is ideal for 60 minute turbo training sessions. To start with, to a good warm up and simply ride at 90% effort for 30 seconds followed by one-minute recovery easy spinning. Keep this going for a 15 minute ‘set’, recover for five minutes then do two another set. This develops both your physical ability to recover from the efforts and psychological courage in the face of repeated hard efforts. Progress this session gradually by extending the length and number of sets, and/or reducing the recovery times between intervals.
5) Warm up
What is it? The process by which you ready your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system for the effort that is about to follow. The warm up is hugely maligned by inexperienced racers who make the cardinal sin of believing that they need to save every ounce of effort for the race proper. The result? Someone makes an early attack and riders are not sufficiently warmed up enough to be able to cover it. It’s called oxygen kinetics – the speed at which your cardiovascular system can deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles that suddenly demand a huge amount of it because you’ve asked them to work so hard, so quickly. If you’re not sufficiently warmed up the speed and amount of oxygen moving to your muscles is compromised and you’ll be playing catch-up for half the race while your body tries to come to terms with the intensity of what you’re asking it to do.
How do I train for it? Simple, formulate a set-warm up which you implement before every race and training session. A good rule of thumb is ‘the shorter the race, the longer the warm up.’ You need to put in place a series of ‘steps’ designed to rasie your heart rate to very close to the kind of intensity you are going to experience in the early part of the race as well as turning the legs at similarly high cadences. Do this very gradually and finish the warm up with some 10-second maximal sprints with 3-minute recoveries between them.
(c) Huw Williams
“Hopefully this gives you an idea of what goes on in a race and as if that wasn’t enough we haven’t even touched on the tactical elements of race-strategy and positioning [that will be covered next week], the technical elements of bike handling and the psychological elements of getting your head round all of these things and being able to put them all together. Those are things we’ll cover in future articles but for now you at least have an idea of the physiological demands of a road race and some ways in which you can prepare for the intensity of it.”
I am grateful for both Michelle and Huw’s assistance in helping with this article. Hopefully, you will now feel more confident in that racing is something you CAN achieve – so what are you waiting for? Get entering those races, ladies!
To contact Michelle, you can email her on [email protected] or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SheCyclesCoachingLtd for more information.
To contact Huw, you can email him on [email protected] or visit lafuga.cc
Next week, I will be concentrating on how to prepare for your first race, including what to pack in your kit bag.
In the meantime, keep riding and stay safe!
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Five – Are You Ready To Race?
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing
Thursday 09:10 California Time
Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright Way Ahead Photography
A few weeks ago I hooked up for a chat with British Track and BMX cycling star Jamie Staff to find out how the World and Olympic champion is settling in to his new life and routine over in the States as USA’s Director of Sprint, and to discuss his other projects and thoughts on his old team back in the UK. It’s 9am California time and Jamie’s just finished clearing away breakfast. He settles himself down for what ends up being a rather long chat.
So tell me about your new role as Director of Sprint.
We [the family] moved over here last year, as you say. My title is Director of Sprint, which basically means I’m the coach for the sprint team but I also have creative control. I have a lot of control over how I go ahead with the programme. I’ve got a few things that I’m trying to do. When I stepped into this role over here there was basically nothing in place: no sprint programme, structure or anything. There had been in the past but they just pulled the plug on it after the Beijing Olympics.
What was the reason for that?
They just didn’t really have the right coach. They’d had a long line of coaches that I don’t think were suited to what the programme needs. I know some of the coaches that had worked with the US before, and it is a somewhat daunting task. It’s a lot to do, but I’ve come in with a lot of energy and know-how and already seen improvements in the short time I’ve been in. The mens team sprint, they’ve set a new US record twice now, and they did set a new Pan-American best time, but that got beaten in the finals in Columbia, but y’know it’s baby steps. For me it’s just about riders’ improvement, as long as we keep riders improving we’ll get where we need to be, we’re not looking at beating world records by any means at the moment. From day one I stated, “look don’t expect any major results [short-term].” Even if we get to London basically it will be an achievement, even if we get on the plane we definitely won’t be competitive in terms of shooting for medals, there’s just no way.
So are you looking further ahead to 2016 in Rio as a realistic goal?
Yeah, that’s my target, and even then I don’t know if we’ll be in gold medal position. I mean you’ve got the likes of Team GB, France and Germany which have had great programmes for many years. So I’m quietly confident in my abilities but at the end of the day it’s down to the riders, you can only guide them and give them so much, the rest is up to them.
Does the track team in the US have a different attitude to the British team?
Jamie Staff with USA cyclist Dean Tracy – Image ©Copyright Brian Hodes @ VeloImages
Erm… It has been in the past but I’m trying to change it [he chuckles at this]. The US mentality was just about trying to beat the other best American, it was about being the best in the country. It was very short-sighted, so I’ve really worked hard with that in saying, “that’s not good enough and that’s not gonna work with me and if that’s your attitude…”
Americans are very good at setting goals in sport, for example in athletics they compete at the top of the world rankings, is it an ethic that’s just not been built into the track sprint team?
I think it’s just because it all boils down to the support they’ve had in the past. If you’ve had a poorly run programme, with a coach that doesn’t really truly believe in his athletes then you’re going to get a very moderate outcome. So I’ve come in, and I’d say I’m multidimensional in my coaching philosophy: it’s not just what you get the riders to do on a daily basis, it’s instilling many other things in them, trying to change their philosophy, goals and beliefs. Basically it’s getting them to believe in themselves and believe that they can be the best in the world, and just raising the bar. That’s what I’ve worked hard at, and I’ve already seen the results from that, so, it’s been very rewarding from my point of view so far. We’ve definitely got a long way to go, but I’d definitely say we’re ahead of where I thought we would be after this short period of time.
You’ve been in America now for nearly a year, and coaching is very different from getting out on the track yourself. Did you find it difficult settling in to a different lifestyle and routine?
Oh yes, for sure. I mean I’ve lived here on and off for ten years with BMX, my wife is from the US, my kids were born here too, and we were living here for a couple of years before we came back to the UK. So I mean in terms of just everyday life… and I know the riders well, I know the track well, I used to train here, I know a lot of the management around the track, so it wasn’t like a foreign country where you don’t know anyone or don’t speak the language. So from that point of view it was very easy.
Coaching is very different to being an athlete, and not every great athlete would make a great coach. I was very fortunate to be part of the British Coaching Programme. I did their education programme, and I even worked writing some of the literature that they produce for their coaches, so I had quite a bit of involvement. I did work with the British BMX team for a little bit as a coach on a part time basis, but that’s basically how I ended up in the job. I never really thought I’d be a teacher or a coach, or anything like that, it didn’t really appeal to me, but as I started doing it I found it very rewarding and enjoyable.
Did you start the coaching training long before you finished your career on the track?
Yeah, I was doing some BMX coaching in 2006. I helped the BMX programme – it was sort of leaderless and didn’t really have a director in the UK – so I kind of stepped into that role, as well as doing my track training I was coaching the BMX guys. So yeah, I have had some coaching experience, and again just working closely with the Coach Education Programme in the UK, which is a world class programme, I think just gave me some of the fundamental principles. I’ve been very fortunate really. I kind of knew my career was coming to an end, so you do start trying to educate yourself or try and gain experience in other areas and I think that’s how I fell in love with coaching.
When you had your back injury had you already decided you wanted to move on, or was it a case of “Oh no, not another injury, I don’t want to deal with this”?
Most of the injuries I’ve had have been short-term, mainly impact injuries, and it’s simply diagnosed and you just get over it relatively quickly. Back injuries are probably one of the last ones an athlete wants to hear or talk about, I mean I’ve had back problems before but it’s been a simple physio visit and a couple of weeks later you’re back to being one hundred percent. But this one was… well, the physios were quite confident I could get over it, I had some scans and tests, but all these things start piecing together over time and being back in the UK was just a lot of pressure on the family. With the wife being from over here amongst other things, we found that hard. And then age obviously comes into it, you know you’ve got to be realistic about your ability especially as I was heading towards London 2012, so there were quite a few different aspects that came together to make that decision. And I think – as I tell my riders – you’ve got to want it more than anything else in this world, you’ve got to be so hungry for that goal otherwise you’re wasting your time.
So you feel the hunger was waning?
Yes, yes for sure, I’ve always been that sort of person. Once I’ve achieved my goal I’ve always found it hard to maintain that drive and hunger.
And was that the same with BMX?
Yes the same thing really, I’d done everything I could. I wasn’t always the best, I was far from it some years and so, I think that was why I was inspired every year to try to be a better BMXer.
Jamie Staff 1996 BMX World Championships Brighton – Image ©Copyright Neill Phillips @ EpicDream Productions Ltd.
Why did you choose Track over say, Downhill MTB? Having so much explosive power and such a strong upper body?
[He chuckles] In BMX obviously you would probably be closer tied to MTB [Mountain Bike], like you said, or Four-Cross [also known as Mountain Cross] or something. But one of my goals was Olympic medals so I looked for the disciplines that were within that range and practised one of them.
It was just by chance really, in the late 90’s we [some of the BMXer’s] went up to Manchester to do some physiological testing on the watt bikes, I did the test and put out more power than any of their track guys. So they asked the question, “hey do you wanna do track?” and I was like, “well is there any money in it?” and they said, “no,” and I was like, “well, then no I don’t, I’ve had years of travelling around the world, this is great!” And I think if they’d spent a little bit more time explaining about the Olympics and what my potential actually was, then maybe I would have pursued it at an earlier stage. There are actually a lot of similarities, a lot of the behind the scenes work you do is very similar. Yes the bike looks completely different but the gym work is basically exactly the same. It’s all the same basic work, so the only thing I had to do was get used to riding a track bike, which after riding a BMX bike was very easy.
You have to contain your movements a lot more though, you can’t throw yourself around as much?
Yeah right, that takes some learning. But yeah, in BMX I was always the first to the first turn, and I wasn’t always the smoothest jumper or the fastest through the rhythm section, but it was my horsepower that kind of won me the races. And that’s why I think track appealed: no obstacles, just start, finish. Go, get there as quick as you can!
Do you still get out on your BMX since the back injury?
Er… Not really, but my back is fine now, it only really hurts when I put it under extreme stress. So squatting over two times your body weight, and doing repetitive circuits on the track, is when it would hurt. I mean right now I don’t feel that problem at all, and my back feels fine. I actually feel great. You know, as an athlete you’re pounding your body every single day in training and your body’s under constant stress, and so therefore you’re quite sore and irritated all the time. And it’s quite pleasing actually that, now I’ve retired, my body feels a hundred times better than it did when I was training.
So are you still continuing with some sort of training regime?
I don’t do too much to be honest, I’m a little bit burn-out on riding a bike, I’m trying to find something else to do. I played some racket sports when I was in my early teens and when I was a youngster, with my dad, so I’m maybe looking at doing something down those lines, something different. I mean I live at the velodrome twelve hours a day, I need to try to get away from that and do something different. I need to find something that will drive me to remain fit and healthy, I don’t want to get on that slippery slope. Just for the stresses of work, as you can imagine now, it is hard, that’s one of the things I’ve learned.
As an athlete I was always looking at family members or friends and saying, “why don’t you just work out? Why don’t you train?” And now, having no physical goals like that I find it so hard to get motivated. I always struggled to comprehend, why don’t people just stay fit? You know, why don’t you go and do something? When you have goals and targets it’s dead easy, but when you don’t it’s so hard. And at the end of a long working day, whatever your job, it’s the last thing you want to do. I’ve been out running a few times but that just bloody hurts so much, I try to find something positive in it, but I need to find something that’s enjoyable and just suits my personality.
You’ve recently become a football or should I say “soccer” coach for your twins’ under six team?
Yeah, I got thrown into that role, but it’s quite fun, I enjoy it, it’s just a local soccer tournament.
Are your twins getting into cycling?
Yeah, my son rode before he was three, my daughter could ride when she was three and a half to four, they’ve both got bikes they’re out all the time. We live in a little cul-de-sac so that’s great for bike riding, they love it.
Would you encourage them to follow a career in cycling?
It’s a tricky one. I mean, I think BMX is a fantastic sport for young kids, it teaches them many skills which they can then take away and apply to other cycling disciplines. It allows you to get into cycling at an early age, as opposed to say mountain biking or road and track, so I wouldn’t stop them from doing it, but I’m really kind of un-forceful. I mean right now my kids are doing soccer but before that my daughter was doing ballet and my son was doing tae-kwon-do, I kind of want them to experience many things, and they need to be the one that figures out what they want to do.
You feel sports is vital for kids development?
Absolutely, I mean I was a shy kid, terribly shy, and through cycling I explored the world and I think I matured as a person, it gave me so many valuable lessons. I think you could do that through any sport, it boosts your confidence tremendously. You’ve got the obvious physical benefits, but it’s the mental ones as well. I’m so lucky I was able to go down that route, and I won’t push but I will definitely express to my children that it’s a great avenue to take. But it’s up to them, I’ll just try to be as supportive as I can, just like my parents were. They were never pushy.
Were your parents into cycling?
No not at all, no one in my family is really sporty at all, the family played squash, badminton and things like that, but no one was at any significant level. It was just something I fell in love with. That is the key thing, trying to find something that you love, and you would do anything to be able to do it. When you have that kind of passion for something that is when you have the potential to be very successful.
I know you had plans a while back to start up a youth academy, is that still something you want to do?
Jamie coaching Holly Swarbrick at Newport Velodrome, Wales – Image ©Copyright Guy Swarbrick
Yes, in the UK. That was the hardest thing for me I think, just walking away from a lot of stuff in the UK. I don’t want to walk away from anything, I’m still trying to put it together. The Cyclo Park [being built in Kent] is a great facility and I’m trying hard to stay involved with that. Literally as we speak I’m putting together just a little bit more detail [in to my academy plans]. Hopefully it will be aimed a bit more at the elite level, y’know with nutrition, psychological, physiological input into riders and helping them with their careers and career planning, season planning and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah I’m still currently working with Kent County Council on that. I’m looking for sponsors right now, I’ve obviously got some good relations in the industry which I’ll be targeting and then there’s some chances of other major sponsors.
The aim is to try to relieve some of the financial responsibility from the actual athletes, because I know how poor cyclists are. I mean it’s very different over here, you can charge an absolute arm and a leg for coaching, but in the UK it’s very, very different, I mean people don’t want to part with ten pounds. If the academy is a success I would love to roll them out all over the UK or maybe even worldwide! You need to grab peoples attention while the sport is on a high to keep the momentum going.
Considering cycling as a sport doesn’t get much national TV and media coverage, certainly compared to the rest of Europe, how come we have such a hotbed of talent and how are kids coming to the sport? Obviously in recent years the profile has risen, but even before that it was always there just under the radar?
I think British Cycling is doing a brilliant job, especially in recruiting cyclists, whether it’s for leisure or sport. I mean BMX is definitely nowhere near where it was in the 80’s and I don’t know if it ever will be. The participation in cycling as a sport has gone through the roof, so I think British Cycling is doing a good job. I hope it’s not fickle. I think we have to be realistic about London’s results, I think Team GB will be successful in certain terms, but I doubt they’ll replicate what they did in Beijing. That’s just sport and that’s life, that’s the cycle of the athletes. We went through a glory period, and it is gonna be hard for them. You can’t replicate that year after year, it ebbs and flows.
I guess that’s even more the case when everyone discovers your secret formula to success?
Exactly, and I hope that those companies that have come into the sport as sponsors remain for the long term loyal to the sport, and I hope they’re not just in for the short term ride. Cycling has many great elements to it and I think the UK is a fantastic country and is embracing that, with building cycle paths and the general infrastructure, they are making improvements. It’s far better than it is over here in the States. I mean yes we have the great weather over here, but they don’t have the cycling infrastructure at all.
So is it city or rural areas that have the better facilities?
In the city you don’t get anything cycle-related, I mean there’s the odd bike path here and there that follow the contours of the rivers from the overflow of rainfall down from the mountains. The US is far behind the UK in terms of that. In the UK the government’s backing a lot of the programmes whereas over here the government’s not interested so it’s all down to the local cities, councils and private investors to try and get stuff going. You’d be amazed at the lack of input over here from the government, in terms of cycling and funding. USA Cycling is, well it’s good that they are self sufficient and they’ve got a business model that works but they don’t get a penny from the government, not a single one, so all their money comes from private investors and just the everyday business through membership. So that’s how they generate their revenue.
So I guess that’s why Road Cycling is the poster sport for cycling in the USA because it can bring in major sponsors and TV coverage?
Exactly, yes, USA Cycling is definitely not in the position that British Cycling is, but then again that’s all down to the National Lottery, if you pull that funding away then, well it would be interesting to see what happens.
Team GB Sprint to Gold in the Beijing Olympics – Image ©Copyright Chas Pope
There’s quite a Jamie Staff shaped hole in the British Sprint team for first man at the moment, and as you know, Liam Phillips the BMX rider is trying out on the track for 8 months. And in that time he’s got to try and get near 17.3 seconds in order to match where the French are with Gregory Bauge. Do you think that is a lot to ask of him?
It is, but I’ve known Liam since he was a little kid, I think he’s got potential, I don’t think they need to put all their eggs in one basket, being purely Liam. I mean Jason Kenny could do it, but he doesn’t like being man one, he likes to be in man two position, and he’s the best man two they have, and Chris is the best man three they’ve got, and yeah obviously they’re trying to fill my shoes. But it is an extremely tall ask of Liam, and I think they’ve got their work cut out for sure. I mean they asked me to come back and I laughed, I was like “yeah right!” I mean I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t replicate what I did in Beijing. But I think Liam has a shot, but at the same time I think they need to chase other avenues with Ross Edgar and push Ross as much as possible. My choice would be (and obviously I’m not there on a daily basis but I know the riders potential): Jason Kenny, then Ross Edgar then Chris Hoy, that would be my call. I mean going into Beijing, Ross was a little bit slower than Jason at man two but it wasn’t much, and even if we had had Ross in the team on paper we would have won, so I know it’s tricky and certain riders want certain positions.
Jason’s gained a lot of power from training for man one, will that have effected him in any way adversely in other areas?
No, I don’t think so, you just have to look at Gregory Bauge, he’s man one and he’s three times World Sprint Champion but he’s not great at the Keirin. So if I had to call it I think Jason will probably end up man one in terms of the team sprint.
But I think Jason definitely has a chance of taking the sprint position in the GB Team, I think Chris will keep the Keirin role, and as I said I think the team sprint will either be Jason, Ross and Chris or, if Liam can come in, then it would be Liam, Jason and Chris. Liam has definitely got a lot to do. I mean at Liam’s age when I was BMXing, I was in my prime, in my mid twenties, and I only got good at the end because of the help from BC, and it wasn’t that I was peaking at thirty-five, it was that I applied everything that they were throwing at me, and that was learnt, and by pushing myself. So you know Liam does have the potential to do that, he’s coming on well physically, he’s really gained a lot of strength over that past couple of years.
Do you keep in touch with a lot of the guys back home?
Yes, periodically, I mean it’s a small world cycling, even though you might not speak to someone in a year, when you do see them it feels like three weeks. I’m a family friend of Liam’s. And the likes of Chris and Jason, I’ll drop them an email every now and then. And every month I’m on the road and during the world cup season, we catch up. I miss them all tremendously, I really miss the UK, and being part of the team, but life goes on. But I couldn’t be happier in my new role and doing what I do, I’m very fortunate to be doing what I really enjoy.
What are the home comforts that you miss from the UK?
Believe it or not, I miss the rolling green fields of Kent, and obviously when we lived in Manchester the surrounding areas there were also very similar. In Southern California you don’t have the ability to escape, I mean anywhere in the UK you can hop on a train or in a car and within an hour you’re in the middle of nowhere. Whereas here, I could go to the middle of nowhere and it would be a dry desert. You do feel kind of trapped by that sometimes, you can’t always take that big deep breath of fresh country air.
Jamie leads out the Mens Team Sprint – L to R Ross Edgar, Jason Kenny & Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright Andy Carnall
Have you visited the London velodrome yet?
Yeah I went there when it was halfway completed, they were just getting the roof ready to go up, there wasn’t a track or anything in there. I’ve seen the pictures and the video and it does look fantastic. When I come over for the world cup in February we’ll do some touristy stuff with the team, get that out the way, and check everything out. I know the US team was asking if the track would be opened up before for training but I’m pretty sure it won’t be. I’m pretty sure Team GB will keep it to themselves, and only open it up when they have to for the World Cup. So apart from that I think it will be closed doors until after the Olympics.
What are your thoughts on the new rules set out by the Olympic committee on the number of entrants per event?
You can understand it from one point of view, but then I think they often forget why people do it. I have this issue on a daily basis now. When I go to a World Cup I’m only able to take three guys and two girls and I’ve probably got ten guys and four girls. Now for those other riders if they don’t see any chance to compete then they’re going to lose motivation, lose drive and probably end up quitting. You want to have the top echelon of riders at the competition, which I understand, but at the same time you can’t take away the dreams of other people, they need to have the chance to prove themselves. I mean you look at Team GB: they probably have four or five decent sprinters, but only one’s going to the Olympics, and so that fourth or fifth quickest rider right now is probably looking at his age, looking at his options and thinking, “well screw it, I don’t think I’ve got a realistic chance of going, why am I doing this?” On the day of the race ultimately it does all come down to who’s in the best place mentally and physically. Even the very best have bad days on the track.
The same applies to the huge amount of pursuit talent, I just don’t think it’s going in the right direction, I think as a competition the one in Beijing worked fine, it had two athletes in most events which was great and I don’t see anything wrong with that. So what if GB has the best two or three riders, why should they have to pay for that? So I mean I can understand it from one point of view, but I think in the interest and the long term of the sport it’s not doing it any good.
Do you still have your first Raleigh Mag Burner?
[Chuckles] No, I wish I did! I actually question what my parents did with everything, because I don’t have an ounce of stuff. I think my parents just gave everything away, sold it or whatever, just to pay for the other races, so it would just discretely disappear. I mean I have nothing, I have some things in the US from when I used to race for Haro, I have some GB tops and stuff.
So do you have a collection of bikes nowadays?
Nooo, you’d be amazed, if you look around the house you wouldn’t know I was a bike racer. In my office I’ve got a couple of jerseys up on the wall and a few pictures from the Olympics, but that’s it. In the garage I’ve got a mountain bike, one BMX and one road bike. I’m not fanatical like some, I mean I know this one kid, he said he’d got like thirty bikes and I said, “you’re kidding me?!” It’s unbelievable, and we don’t have the room basically and I don’t think my wife would appreciate having twenty bikes in the garage. I think she’s had enough, she’s got her bike, I’ve got mine. I’ve got one for if I want to go off on the road, I’ve got something for playing with the kids on the BMX. At the end of the day if I wanted something I could always get it because I know plenty of people in the industry but I’m not that fussed.
For now British Cycling are staying at Manchester Velodrome do you think the pressure will build for them to relocate to London and the new facilities?
Jamie Staff competing in The Revolution Series at Manchester – Image ©Copyright Guy Swarbrick
No, Manchester has too much of an interest in British Cycling and the upheaval of all the staff would be too much. I’m sure there will be divisions of it potentially that will move down there, maybe one element of it, you know like education or Go Ride. They may extend down there, and obviously there’s such a catchment area, it would be silly not to do something with it. So I’m sure it will be a fantastic velodrome that’ll be extremely busy but the nuts and bolts of British Cycling will definitely stay in Manchester in my opinion.
What advice would you give to young riders that want to get their talent noticed?
To get their talent noticed it’s basically going to be racing. I think it’s far harder these days. When I was a kid, because the sport was in it’s infancy, everyone was at the same level. Now for a junior or young kid coming into the sport where even the young kids are extremely talented, it’s got to be very off-putting and nerve racking and they basically just see it’s near enough impossible for them to get better within that sport. So I think you’ve just got to focus on yourself and make sure that you improve, and over time you can do it. It doesn’t take long for a young kid to get into BMX – you’re still talking a number of years, maybe three or four years before they’re really good – but in the scheme of things that’s not very long at all. So just don’t be put off by the talent above, don’t let that deter you.
So it’s very important they join a club?
Yeah yeah, definitely, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes cyclists seem very closed with information, but I think once you start talking to parents or club officials or whoever, they’ll open up and tell you quite a bit. So just talk, ask questions and people will be forthcoming with information and help guide you. And then obviously in today’s modern world with the media it makes that so much easier.
Do you think you’ll come back to the UK at any point and do some coaching?
Hopefully yeah, I mean, like I said, my plan with the academy in the UK is that I come there every three months and do a two or three day seminar, that’s the goal. The premise of the academy is to basically educate people on their upcoming quarter, so we’ll break a season down into four parts. So prior to that next part I will come and educate you on the things that you need to be thinking of and the processes you need to go through.
So for instance: you’ve just finished your race season and now you’ve got to deal with some time off, so I’ll tackle that. A lot of people don’t take any time off and it’s all about having other interests and hobbies so you don’t get burnt out, because I think many kids are just too intense for too long, you’ve got to have balance in your life. So I’ll just deal with different issues at different parts of the year. I’ll also cover bike skills and winter riding, and I want to get some
Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright John @ Cycling Focus
companies involved with parts, equipment and bikes, and help educate people on clothing, tyre choice and even get some pro riders to help inspire them.
I feel there is such a lack of information out there, it’s just ridiculous. I’m just trying to open up the knowledge that I received from British Cycling and obviously what I’ve learnt myself. I want to open it more to the general public, and get some of that information out there because I do feel it is somewhat closed off. I mean there are no real secrets but you would think there was. It’s just careful planning and hard work basically, that’s what it comes down to, there’s no magic helmet you’re just gonna put on, no magic shoes, it’s just bloody hard work at the end of the day, and I think people need to hear that.
To find more out about Jamie click here to go to his website.
To find out more about the USA Cycling Team click here.
Jamie’s major career results include:
- 1996 World BMX Champion
- 2002 Bronze Kilo (England), Commonwealth Games, Manchester
- 2002 Silver Team Sprint (England), Commonwealth Games, Manchester
- 2002 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Ballerup
- 2003 Silver Sprint, National Championships
- 2003 Silver Sprint, UCI World Cup, Mexico
- 2003 Gold Kilometre, UCI World Cup, Mexico
- 2003 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Cup, South Africa
- 2004 Gold Keirin, UCI Track World Championships, Melbourne
- 2004 Bronze Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Melbourne
- 2005 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Los Angeles
- 2006 Silver Team Sprint, Commonwealth Games, Melbourne
- 2006 Silver Team Sprint UCI Track World Championship, Bordeaux
- 2007 Bronze Kilometre UCI Track World Championship, Palma De Mallorca
- 2008 Silver Team Sprint UCI Track World Championships, Manchester
- 2008 Gold Team Sprint, Olympic Games, Beijing
- 2009 Silver UCI Track World Championships Team Sprint
My thanks to Jamie and all the photographers.
©Copyright 2011 Anna Magrath @ Cycling Shorts. Please do not reproduce any content without permission from myself or the photographers.